If I didn't already have this cookbook, it's what I'd want for Mother's Day. But since I do own a cherished copy, for Mother's Day I'd like my family to use it to make my favorite recipe.

The book I'm talking about is "The Cake Mix Doctor" (Workman, $14.95) by Anne Byrn of Nashville, Tenn. My favorite recipe (so far) is Darn Good Chocolate Cake. Believe me, it is darn good. I crave this cake warm from the oven while the chocolate chips inside are still gooey.Chocolate on chocolate -- what self-respecting mom could resist? But that's not all. This confection is made from a cake mix, as the name of the book implies, and it practically mixes itself in exactly 12 minutes.

I have a confession. Before "The Cake Mix Doctor" came into my life, I had all but stopped baking cakes. Scratch cakes were too complicated for my hectic schedule, and plain old cake mixes simply didn't meet my standards. But Byrn has found prescriptions for doctoring up any cake mix. Whether it's a shot of rum, an extra egg, a dose of sour cream, or an infusion of pudding, Byrn's secrets lead to success.

I'm baking my way through the book, and I especially like her well-researched tips that take the mystery out of cake-mix fix-ups. For example, the big cake-mix drawback for me has always been that artificial butter taste. If you share this concern, Byrn suggests forgetting yellow mixes and concentrating on the white and chocolate varieties.

And this advice is what led me to Darn Good Chocolate Cake, the recipe we're sharing today. We like to serve it topped with fresh strawberries and a squirt of whipped cream; but if you don't have any, a dusting of powdered sugar on top also makes an attractive finish.


cooking oil spray

flour for dusting

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain devil's food or dark chocolate fudge cake mix

1 package (3.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding mix

4 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup warm water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking-oil spray, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.

2. Place the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, sour cream, warm water and oil in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer at low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 to 3 minutes more, scraping down the sides of the bowl again if needed. The batter should look thick and well-combined.

3. Fold in the chocolate chips, making sure they are well-distributed throughout the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it out with the rubber spatula. Place the pan in the oven.

4. Bake the cake until it springs back when lightly pressed with your finger and just starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. (We needed to wait 30 minutes.) Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto the rack to cool completely, 20 minutes more. Or invert it onto a serving platter to slice and serve while still warm. Serves 16.

Approximate Values Per Serving: 345 calories (50 percent from fat), 20 g fat (7 g saturated), 80 mg cholesterol, 5 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 400 mg sodium.

Beverly Mills is a former food editor of the Miami Herald food section and a mother of two; Alicia Ross, a former food columnist for The Raleigh News and Observer, also has two children. They have been living the desperate life for the past nine years. Their new cookbook, "Desperation Dinners!" is now available from Workman Publishing. Send desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016; or e-mail: ddinnersaol.com. (C) United Feature Syndicate, Inc.